in Tunisia, the emergence of a generation Ons Jabeur

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Tunisian tennis player Ons Jabeur at the Roland-Garros tournament in Paris on May 22, 2022.

At the Tunis Tennis Club (TCT), Zeineb, Mariem, Rahma and Amira exchange balls as a warm-up, under the watchful eye of the technical director, Assia Halo, former Algerian champion. These girls between the ages of 10 and 17 embody the dreams of the Alain-Savary district club, one of the best in Tunisia. “We work with technique, of course, but also with the mind. They are young, they need to gain confidence in themselves. ” the coach insists.

Amira, 16, started the sport at the age of 6, pushed by her parents. He admired Russian player Maria Sharapova, then became a fan of On Jabeur: the 27-year-old Tunisian, sixth in the world rankings, walked many times on the clay tracks of the TCT, especially during the Nana Trophy, an international women’s tennis tournament. “I like everything about her plans, her style of play, her humor.” lists, dreamer, Amira. Beside him, Zeineb, Mariem and Rahma agree.

Also read: Roland-Garros: elimination of On Jabeur in the first round, first surprise of the fortnight

For the past five years, the dazzling career of the champion has thrilled Tunisia. What does it matter to be eliminated in the first round of Roland-Garros on Sunday, May 22? The first Arab player to win a WTA tournament with a victory in Madrid on May 7, she was christened the “Minister of Joy” by her fans in a country with a bleak political and economic climate.

About 30,000 licensees

“In a few years, when we only talked about football in the cafeteria, tennis has become a way of conversation thanks to Ons », testifies Haythem Abidi, coach of Gazelec Sport Tunis. It is at this club that he trains 17-year-old Feryel Ben Hassen, who seems to be one of the most serious runners-up in the On Jabeur, with a good ranking among the juniors worldwide. She also calls herself “highly motivated by the example of Ons, his mental strength and tenacity.” At TCT, Chiraz Bechri, 23, also arrives strong, despite injuries that have held back a promising start to his career. “Ons is an inspiration to her: she also suffered injuries and severe blows and was able to get up again.” says his coach, Chokri Ben Amor.

Nabil Mlika, former On Jabeur coach at Hammam Sousse (east) club, says he uses his former protégé as “reference” by the kids he trains. “When I want to explain a game technique or a gesture to them, as soon as I mention Ons, I have their full attention,” he jokes. At Gazelec Sport, Haythem Abidi is delighted with the multiplication of the number of players who reach a competitive stage between the ages of 10 and 14. “Three years ago, we had a staff of 30 players, today we reach 128 in the national tournaments”explain.

Also read: In Tunisia, tennis champion Ons Jabeur sells her racket against Covid-19

The Tunisian Tennis Federation (FTT) confirms that the number of players has tripled in recent years. The country has about 30,000 licensees and about 50 clubs, up from 30 five years earlier. This impetus was driven by the president of the FTT, Salma Mouelhi Guizani, in office since 2013. The former player imposed parity in the management of the federation and at the club level. “I wanted to democratize and feminize this sport,” confirms what has also strengthened national tournaments – about 35 a year – to allow players to enter professional circuits.

A WTA tournament in Monastir

Today, the number of women and men is balanced, while twenty years before tennis was a very masculine sport in Tunisia. “I remember we trained a lot with the boys because it wasn’t enough.” explains Mounira Bey, a girls coach in Djerba (southeast). Nabil Mlika also remembers playing Ons Jabeur in men’s tournaments: “By the time she was 11, she was already beating girls older than her,” he says.

The challenge for the federation is now to improve the infrastructure, because the country does not have covered fields or grass. “Today, the dynamic must win the state so that sport at a competitive level is a priority for the development of our young people”, insists Salma Mouelhi Guizani. Because without the support of the authorities, the back of the decoration of the seeds of champions is not very pink. “We have a lot of potential, but it’s still difficult to find sponsors.” reports Slim Abassi, the head coach of the young players of the TCT. Ons Jabeur also suffered in his early days. Today, posters with her effigy of a Tunisian telecommunications operator are visible all over the territory.

Read on too Tennis and Tunisia, the two passions of On Jabeur

Assia Halo hopes the tennis player’s notoriety will attract new sponsors to young talent. “When the players become adults, you have to move on to another stage, have a private coach, a physical trainer, etc. It costs about 5,000 lunches a month [plus de 1 500 euros], which is very difficult for a Tunisian family to take on “, she explains. At Hammam Sousse, Nabil Mlika remains confident: “In recent years, we have had many parents who register their children and companies who are very interested in the subject of sponsorship, while three or four years ago it was not so. »

The Ons Jabeur effect continues to emulate. Following its success, the FTT managed to organize a WTA tournament in Monastir in October.

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